Cape Town – This was like the science test the matrics found ominously hard a few weeks before their final exams.
In the context of the next World Cup, in little more than a year’s time, the Springboks on Saturday were served a stark, jolting reminder of their ongoing fallibility and status as little more than a mid-table sort of power among the most established nations.
Argentina deservedly banked their third bilateral Test triumph from the 28 tussles with a 32-19 Rugby Championship humbling (also the widest margin they have achieved yet) of Rassie Erasmus’s charges in the sunshine of Mendoza.
It is true that the Pumas played out of their skins, including producing periods of dazzling hand-to-hand play that had a flaky Bok defence groping at shadows, and also bursting the bubble, on the day, of famed SA physicality.
But the visitors had plenty of opportunities of their own, too, and the manner in which so many were butchered, either by poor option-taking, evidence of technical shortcomings in passing or simply by being overly frantic, simply reminded of the painful route yet to be negotiated on the Boks’ intended climb back toward top dogs on the planet.
The scary thing I found for this exercise was that, even in other video nasties over the last few years, it is usually possible to identify at least one or two lone beacons of near-excellence from the Bok starting XV… here I could find no genuine exception to the hallmark of under-delivery.
For the record, two forward substitutes in the second half earn best scores out of 10.
Here’s how I rated the Boks in Mendoza:
Willie le Roux: 5.5
Nick Mallett effectively savaged the fullback at half-time for “40 minutes of non-contact rugby”. It included a gross lack of authority as the incoming player under a high ball, where he had a bad mix-up with Faf de Klerk. A saving grace was Le Roux still being behind a couple of moments of tee-up magic on attack.
Makazole Mapimpi: No rating
The right wing, scorer of two tries against the same foes in Durban a week ago, was injured and withdrawn well before the first quarter had run its course, so a rating is not really applicable. (Replacement Lionel Mapoe, albeit more familiar to midfield, was plucky enough and crossed for a second-half brace himself.)
Lukhanyo Am: 4.5
It was back downhill for the Sharks midfielder, alas, after a strong showing at his home ground of Kings Park last Saturday. He got sucked inward too often on defence, made no impact over the ball – an area he is usually good at – and once fatally delayed a pass that might have sparked promise on the wing.
Andre Esterhuizen: 5
His brawny qualities made him a moderate handful (although having him crash onto the ball can be overdone) and he made some firm tackles. But doubts remain about his creativity potential in a key slot.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 5.5
Gritty and willing enough -- which was something on a day where others couldn’t even find that much. Robbed of what would have been an excellent finish for a try by an earlier, marginal forward pass in the move. Still needs work on positional acumen on defence, and tactical kicking. Driven back forcefully once in a tackle and penalised for not releasing.
Handre Pollard: 4
Every now and then, some beautifully-weighted passes in Bok offensives. Otherwise, regrettably, a continuation of his “yips” from last weekend … including a wretched, usually routine early penalty miss. Nicolas Sanchez playing a blinder opposite him hardly helped matters. Confidence has drained in an extraordinary way; No 10 berth up for grabs again.
Faf de Klerk: 4.5
Not his fault at times that players weren’t where they should have been for ball receipts. But this was also another game where, for all his effervescence, De Klerk was a little exposed again in game-management terms.
Warren Whiteley: 5.5
Did a lot of scrambling, and generally covered groundbetter than certain more lumbering pack-mates. Again, however, he struggled to provide true “oomph” on the front foot to the Bok cause.
Siya Kolisi: 5.5
Decidedly mixed bag … and ideally you want more than that from your skipper on such a harrowing afternoon, don’t you? Made some racehorse-like breaks in the first half, including for his 14th-minute try, and showed lovely hand skills once or twice. But he also went too notably AWOL, in his supposed new role as blind-sider, as a “go forward” factor.
Francois Louw: 4
Pretty grim Test by the 33-year-old veteran. No consistent impact in his primary role at the breakdown, and frankly he looked too close to the proverbial revolving door in the tackle department a few times.
Franco Mostert: 4.5
He’s always been more of a “cruiserweight” lock on the scales and, for all his honest endeavour, this was the kind of match – against especially revved-up opposition – where it showed. Still managed a couple of solid clean-outs.
Eben Etzebeth: 4
Back to earth for the big guy. It isn’t often that Etzebeth is withdrawn after only 47 minutes, but perhaps last week’s heroic exertions on comeback from a very lengthy absence caught up with him in faraway Mendoza. First-half yellow card for a ruck offence under pressure, soon after Boks had been rocked by successive tries, only added to collective woes.
Frans Malherbe: 4
Like Etzebeth, he had put in a big Durban shift … and similarly just didn’t seem to have the legs for the follow-up. Sprightly enough first few minutes, but then receded badly.
Malcolm Marx: 4.5
The Pumas had done their homework well on the powerhouse, spiritedly stopping him in his tracks when he tried out some of his famed leg-drive. His role in an imperfect lineout remains under scrutiny as well.
Tendai Mtawarira: 4.5
Let’s just say that, even if Argentineans might never have done it too lustily anyway, there were desperately few opportunities for the “Beeeast!” chant. Subdued showing.
Wilco Louw and Pieter-Steph du Toit: 6.5
Replacement tighthead Louw had a pleasingly solid last 20 minutes, including one gigantic right shoulder in a scrum; Boks also heeled against the head with him on. As for Du Toit, his bulk and general vigour came in belatedly handy; shouldn’t have been dropped to bench in first place?
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